Durian: Olfactory Crime or Pleasure?

<Sniff sniff>You smell that? Are you lured by the smell of durian or are you repulsed by it? Such is the unique quality of this fruit that you either love it or turn your nose up in disgust. I am at heart a Durian gal through and through. For those who aren’t sure what a durian is, here it is in all its thorny glory.

If looks could kill indeed; what more with durian farmers and collectors risking their lives dodging falling ripe durians from trees. This heavily armoured fruit emits a pungent waft that some describe as being akin to  sweat sodden socks mingled with rotten onions. Not a very tantalising description huh?.. but for many locals of south east asian countries, the durian is hailed ‘The King of Fruits’ and we LOVE LOVE LOVE gorging on durians in season usually around April to July depending on the region. I can’t say much about the heady scent of durians; for I too have endured car rides from durian orchards, engulfed in a time suspended sulphuric bubble coupled with tropical heat that might just trigger a fainting spell. The taste however, is a completely different story. Creamy and rich like an avocado, custardy and sweet with a hint of alcoholic bitterness, to me it does not taste anything like rotten onions or stinky cheese. Well ok, it is an acquired taste but once you get past the smell, the durian can be a highly addictive delicacy.

Durian conjures up old memories for me. I miss eating good durians a lot, especially since whenever I return home to KL for a holiday, durian season’s off! 😥  Having lived together with my extended family for 14 years of my life, and by that I mean 4 generations under one roof or building for that matter, a durian feast is a communal affair; sackfuls of durians sit by the corner as we stand around waiting for one of the family members to ceremoniously whack open the fruit with a cleaver, on the cement floor laden with newspaper. The fruit-filled shell portion would be passed around and we would swoop in eagerly to peel away chunks of sweet yellow flesh. To finish off, we would use the durian shell as a cup to fill with water and a pinch of salt, and drink this to dispel all that ‘heat’ we’ve consumed from the rich durian. I didn’t understand that logic at that time and still don’t; probably an old wives tale? <shrug shoulders> All I know is it was COOL to drink from that thorny wedge and psssst… when I was by myself and no one was looking, I would pretend to be a tribal chief, toast my imaginary loyal subjects with a heroic lift of the durian shell held precariously between my fingers to avoid stabbing myself with them torns, and in one big swig, I would down the water…somehow the water tasted pretty magical 😉

Durians also excited me a lot back then because it meant I got to feast on succulent mangosteens and rambutans as they tend to appear in season around the same time. Ahhh..how I miss these tropical pleasures. 

Durian flesh eaten straight from the shell is great BUT when eaten cold it’s even more SHIOK! I’ve deliberately used this Manglish term because heck, I can’t think of any word to best describe cold durian. SHIOK connotates “Best!” “Awesomeness!” but colloquially, SHIOK sounds better. Mom would keep containers and containers of durian in the fridge & freezer and no matter how air tight the container may be, the durian scent permeates through. We would eat this cold durian for the next few days as dessert or afternoon snack and it is so good. And when the mood strikes, mom would then mash up some durian flesh and turn this into a decadent durian butter cake sandwiched and frosted all over with generous lashings of durian cream and it is absolute heaven! What’s that? Oh yeah…SHIOK!!

So, feeling nostalgic about missing durians yet again this year, I picked out one, albeit a half-frozen one from a stall at Preston Market last Thursday. Well, I initially didn’t know it was frozen as it sat in a box on the shopfront. Determined to have a taste, the Monthong species will do. I only just read from Wikipedia that Monthong is the Thai species commonly or commercially sold due to its ‘thick, full-bodied creamy and mild sweet tasting flesh with relatively moderate smell emitted and smaller seeds’. Indeed, it was quite creamy, fleshy and very sweet but I still prefered the slightly bittersweet and paler fleshed durians we get back home. But I can’t complain. J heroically did the honors of prying the shell open with a cleaver after I chickened out..I have a thing about cleavers…


I was tempted to polish off the durian chunks there and then but resisted after a bite or two because I still wanted to turn some of it into a durian cream sponge cake. Pureeing the durian involved just pressing the flesh through a sieve to remove the stringy fibres, to which I then fold through the puree, a little bit of whipped cream and a tablespoonful more of icing sugar. I used a genoese sponge recipe for my cake but agree that for durian sponge cakes, a softer cottony sponge is called for, like those asian sponge cakes baked with ovalette which is a sponge cake stabiliser/emulsifier. Well, I haven’t got ovalette and I don’t think it’s necessary to use it; I just haven’t researched enough asian sponge recipes that turn out great without it. The cake was still delicious nonetheless especially when eaten the next day, but my mom’s cake rocks 10 times more! So there is no recipe for today as I shall continue to experiment with this durian cake. I just wanted to dedicate an entry to the mighty King of Fruits!  

If you are not familiar with this stinkylicious fruit and are curious enough to try it, find a friend(s) who does, buy one and share and if you absolutely can’t stand it, your friend(s) would gladly devour it for you. To avoid the risk of injuring yourself, you can also head to the frozen section of your asian grocery store for the ready packed fruit-only-no-thorns option available for sale. ENJOY!!!  And er…try not to burp afterwards….hehehe…

100% durian..uhuh! 

Durian Cake

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3 comments to Durian: Olfactory Crime or Pleasure?

  • Vyanne

    That looks so luscious! I do share the fond memories of eating durians followed by drinking salted water off the shells. And better still, eating mangosteens after that to ‘cool down’. How I miss them!

  • I love durian but haven’t tried using it for cake. You have intrigued me to try it soon. Thanks for sharing!

  • Mei Sze

    Hi Ellie,
    Durian cake is really lovely especially when eaten cold. Mine was a sponge cake layered with the durian cream whilst I remember my mom’s version of durian butter cake, so some of the flesh is incorporated into the pound cake base, then sliced into layers and smothered with durian custard or durian cream. Just a fuel for thought if you would like to play around with this…Also, I only used 1 durian for a 6-7 inch round cake..so just in case, you might want to buy 2 – 3 durians….any excess? mmm…durian icecream! 🙂